Canon PowerShot SD1000 Review

Canon PowerShot SD1000

“Anyone looking for a good point-and-forget digicam should put this one high on the list.”
  • 7.1MP; 3x optical zoom; ultra compact
  • Few manual controls; high digital noise at ISO 400 and above; LCD could be more responsive
MSRP $219.95

Summary

The SD1000 is one of the newest editions of the ELPH series that celebrated its 20th anniversary last year. The film-based original broke the design mold with its classic “box and circle” styling. Now, the SD1000 Digital ELPH has returned to these retro roots on the outside, but inside, it’s obviously a completely different breed.

This is a 7.1-megapixel camera with a 3x optical zoom and is the replacement for the popular SD600. It is extremely compact and can be taken with you almost anywhere — which is terrific for spur-of-the-moment snapshots. It features Canon’s newest DIGIC III processor that not only makes this a very responsive digicam (up to 1.7 fps), but also enables Face Detection Auto Focus and Exposure (AF/AE). It operates like many other FD systems; it automatically searches for human faces and compensates for them so you end up with nice photos. At least, that’s the plan.

For some strange reason, the SD1000 — although it has the highest model number — is not the best ELPH; look to the $499 10MP SD900 for that honor. After scratching our heads a bit over that one, it was time to put the “cheap” SD1000 through its paces.

Features and Design

The SD1000 is a very compact camera (3.38” wide x 2.11” high x .76” diameter), and it weighs a feathery five ounces with battery and SD card. Hold this one in your hand and you’ll be amazed — it is really small. Canon sent us a camera with a black circle in the silver box; I liked it, since it’s such a throwback. For those with different tastes, the company has one with a silver-toned circle. It’s your call. Within the circle is the 3x Canon zoom lens with the traditional focal length of 35-105mm (in 35mm terms). The front has a flash, mic, AF Assist sensor, and a peephole for the optical viewfinder, something rarely found these days — especially on cameras this small. You’ll also find a lot of text detailing the lens, model number, and so on. This really takes away from the minimalist look Canon was trying to achieve. Some judicious editing would’ve helped.

On the top, you’ll find the power on/off key and a shutter button, as well as the wide/tele adjustment. It’s in a good spot, and there’s little fumbling while zooming in and out. This switch also helps to navigate through the menu system.

The rear of the SD1000 is dominated by a 2.5-inch LCD screen to frame your shots and review them. It’s rated 230k pixels. As noted earlier, the camera has an optical viewfinder. This can be a lifesaver if you’re shooting in bright sunshine that directly hits the screen. That said, the screen was a bit slow (with blur) when moving to snap new subjects, and it was definitely not as good as Sony’s top-of-the-line screens.

Since this is a point-and-forget camera, there is a minimal amount of buttons. To the right of the screen are the usual buttons, including a four-way controller with set button, one to change the display onscreen (grid lines are available), one to enter the menu system, and the main mode switch that moves between still, video, and playback. There’s no mode dial, so you have to use the menu system to make adjustments. It’s well thought out and a breeze to follow (other than having to drill down a level to find the shutter speed adjustment). Your other manual adjustments are exposure compensation, white balance, and type of metering, so if you want anything beyond this, look elsewhere. But advanced tweaks are not the raison d’etre of this camera. It’s designed for snapshots — of people and things— and to be carried around all the time.

On the right side is a small compartment for the USB and A/V outputs. On the bottom are the tripod mount and the compartment for the battery and SD card. As we said, this camera is pretty simple and easy to understand.

The SD1000 comes with the usual assortment of accessories to get you started. It even comes with a puny 32MB SD card. You can probably ask your dealer to toss in a larger one for free if you’re shopping in person (don’t be afraid to ask). There’s a battery/charger, wrist strap, USB and A/V cables, and CD ROM software (Canon Digital Camera Solution Disc Ver. 30.0). You’ll also get basic and advanced user manuals, along with a Direct Print user guide. You’ll be up and going in no time; we were too, and it was time to start shooting.

Canon SD1000
The Canon SD1000 w/retro black ring (also available w/ a silver ring).

Testing and Use

Even with a retro look, the new SD1000 has some very current technology, including DIGIC III, Canon’s newest processor. This chip speeds overall performance (start-up, shot-to-shot times), plus it enables Face Detection, the digital camera world’s “Feature Du Jour.” As we reported in our review of the new Sony DSC-T100, Face Detection maximizes the camera’s ability to capture properly exposed and focused images of human faces (sorry, no animals allowed). When you put the camera in this mode using the simple onscreen menu system, the camera will look for up to nine faces. A box appears around each one, and the camera goes to work. For the record, Fujifilm digicams handle up to 10, while Sonys take care of eight. As noted in the Sony review, it’s fun watching the boxes move around the LCD as FD tries to do the job. I compared the SD1000 to three other new models: the T100, the Fujifilm FinePix F31fd, and the Pentax Optio T30. The Canon was the winner, as the results clearly showed on my 8.5 x 11 full bleed prints. Sony was the runner-up.

Along with Face Detection, the SD1000 has the usual coterie of scene modes available through the menu system such as Landscape, Foliage, Snow, Beach, Fireworks, and so on. The camera also lets you add colors or modify them if you’re feeling creative. This is a pretty useless feature (in my humble opinion), but the scene modes are good for point-and-shoot simplicity.

When you’re in Auto mode, the camera is in control; your only options are resolution. Since this is a 7.1MP digicam, maximum file size is 3072 x 2304 pixels. If you want to shoot widescreen for your new TV, resolution drops to 3072 x 1728. A 2-gig card lets you take 622 shots in best quality. If you move to Manual, you can adjust exposure compensation, white balance, and type of metering. In order to adjust shutter speed (15 seconds max) you have to press Exposure Compensation to reach that adjustment. This was the only wrinkle in an otherwise no-brainer menu system. Guess the Canon software engineers took a long lunch that day…

I hate to say it, but this camera is cute and fun to carry around. I know some photo snobs will turn up their noses at that comment, but this isn’t a Canon EOS 1D Mark III; it’s targeted to people who want a camera for everyday use. And you can’t beat the portability. Try sticking a D-SLR in your pocket and you’ll know what I mean. After taking a load of images in Auto and the various Manual options, I turned out a bunch of 8.5 x 11 full bleed prints. The results were pretty much as expected.

Overall, the quality of the images was quite good, in classic Canon style. After testing dozens of digital cameras from myriad companies for over five years, you realize they handle photos very differently in terms of the final output. I tend to favor Canon for their natural, realistic feel. This is hard to quantify, but I simply like their prints better than competitors. Granted, this is not always the case throughout a company’s entire lineup, but it was certainly true for the SD1000. And, in the case of Face Detection, it did the best job. One area where the SD1000 disappointed a bit was handling digital noise. Once you hit 400, it was pretty noticeable, and above that there was no avoiding it. Although there’s a 1600 setting, it’s pretty useless. In other words, use the flash when shooting indoors. I was glad to see Canon didn’t make any pretensions of some sort of phony image stabilization that raises shutter speed and ISO. Just use good camera-holding techniques with your elbows pressed into your body, and you’ll eliminate a lot of blur.

Canon SD1000
Image Courtesy of Canon

Conclusion

Anyone looking for a good point-and-forget digicam should put the Canon Powershot SD1000 Digital ELPH high on the list. It’s not the fastest camera in the world, but it works quickly enough, even with the flash blazing away. Photo quality is of the classic Canon style, which I like very much. I’m sure zillions of shutterbugs will like it too.

Pros:

• Extremely compact and light
• Good photo quality
• Best Face Detection setting
• Decent response for a camera of this class

Cons:

• Few manual controls
• High digital noise at ISO 400 and above
• LCD could be more responsive

Editors' Recommendations